RIYADH: Given that Saudi Arabia’s consumers are largely and naturally tech-savvy, it is hardly surprising that almost 60 percent of consumers who send money abroad prefer digital money-transfer services, compared to 22 percent who want choice and 17 percent who send cash through retail channels only, according to research commissioned by Western Union.
However, many still want the power to choose between online and retail experiences — depending on their convenience and needs. Exclusive insights show that today almost 60 percent of consumers who send money abroad prefer digital money-transfer services, compared to 22 percent who want choice and 17 percent who send cash through retail channels only.
The study surveyed over 1,500 money-transferring people in Saudi Arabia and asked how, when and why they move money internationally.
“Saudi Arabia consumers recognize the convenience moving money securely through digital channels brings,” Jean Claude Farah, president of the Middle East and Asia Pacific, Western Union, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“COVID-19 pandemic also played a major role in accelerating adoption of digital payments, as lockdowns and movement restrictions encouraged consumers to switch to cashless alternatives.”
However, he added, none of this compares to the efforts of the government and the regulator, who have been making significant strides toward digital transformation in the country.
“Since launching their ambitious National Transformation Program, the country’s visionary leaders have been steadfast in developing the necessary infrastructure to support this evolution,” said Farah.
“As a result, today Saudi Arabia ranks seventh for its digital competitiveness among the G20, while internet penetration across the country sits at an impressive 98 percent.”
The study outcomes demonstrate that citizens and residents have been part of this journey — largely opting for online options over in-person experiences, as they benefit from the country’s increasingly advanced digital framework.
Farah said the Kingdom’s increasingly advanced digital framework, coupled with the consumers’ eagerness to adapt, has bolstered Saudi Arabia’s position as one of the leaders of the digital economy.
Spurring digital growth
The research also aligns with Western Union data, demonstrating strong customer preferences to move money digitally. In the first three quarters of 2022, the company experienced double-digit year-on-year growth in the volume of digital transactions from Saudi Arabia.
When asked what factors contributed to this phenomenal growth, Farah said: “Consumers remain highly motivated to support families and loved ones and are typically resilient in their efforts to do so. Over the last few years, movement restrictions shifted consumer behavior from retail to digital, spurring digital growth. The remittance industry was no exception.”
He added: “Our digital growth is strong, and we will continue to prioritize how best we can serve our customers so that we continue to grow. This means continuing to invest in digital customer acquisition and focusing on ensuring customers who wish to move from retail to digital are able to do so seamlessly.”
Influence of receivers
The research also shows that receivers of funds strongly influence how much and often their senders transfer money. Overall, 34 percent of senders say their families or loved ones’ financial situation drives decisions on the frequency and flow of funds.
Sixty-eight percent also say their receiver influences the company they choose to send money through, and 74 percent state that their transfer method of choice — digital, retail or a mix — depends on how their receiver can collect the money.
Moreover, 74 percent of those surveyed expected to send money through wire transfer in the next 12 months, while 66 percent hoped to receive it.
However, senders also struggle with a cost-of-living dichotomy: 73 percent said they need to send more money as the cost of living in their receiving country has increased. Yet 67 percent believe that a higher cost of living in their country of residence means they cannot transfer as much as they previously did.
“There are many factors that influence remittances, such as differential unemployment rates, inflation rates and cost of living,” explained Farah. “This is because to remit is a personal decision: unique to individual circumstance, and often done with the intention to support family based in home countries around the world.”
“Given the broader global economic climate, and the need to keep pace with daily financial needs, we expect remittances to continue to grow in the near future,” he continued.
Women prioritize differently
The study also shows that more women in Saudi Arabia send money transfers more often than once a month than men. Nearly a quarter of the women surveyed — versus 21 percent of men — say they move money multiple times within a month.
Also, 55 percent of the surveyed group believed men move money primarily to pay for family support, and 42 percent felt that women transferred sums for financial commitments, future savings and academic endeavors.
“Globally, women comprise slightly less than half of today’s expatriate workers,” Farah said.
He added: “They are more empowered than ever before as they move internationally and shape global economies. In line with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is focused on attracting the finest local and international minds to bolster economic development.
“Their ambition to increase women’s participation in the workforce to 30 percent by 2030 means that ensuring greater access to financial services is imperative, particularly with the rise of new technologies.”
Committed to the Kingdom
Asked what steps the company is taking to offer stronger financial opportunities to help consumers better manage their financial lives, Farah said Western Union, which has been operating in Saudi Arabia for over 20 years, is deeply committed to the Kingdom.
“Today, Western Union offers its own branded digital money transfer services, as well as digital services with agents in the country, he said.
“Additionally, we offer our services through over 200 retail agent locations,” he continued. “Through our retail and digital channels, customers can send money into billions of bank accounts, as well as millions of wallets and cards across more than 130 countries and territories.
“Real-time transfers are available in 100 of these countries. Cash-payout across our global network is also available in over 200 countries and territories.”
He said the company comes across a recurring theme: consumers want choice in how they send money — based on convenience and need. So, while scaling its digital solutions is the company’s priority, they also want to ensure no one is left behind.
This means tailoring solutions for the digitally disinclined segments of the population, such as those accustomed to walking to the nearest location to send money in cash to their family back home.
“Our customers trust us with their financial resources; we earn this trust by delivering upon our commitment to move their money reliably, safely and at speed,” he concluded.
“We believe that ensuring customers have a choice in how and when they move money globally will play a significant role in helping them manage their daily financial needs.”